Unending Seige

The Burdens of War

Of the 59,544 who died in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, 6,767 succumbed to sickness and 13,289 to injuries sustained in battle or as the result of an accident. Another 154,361 soldiers were injured but survived. The approximate success rate for the care given to these wounded men was an impressive 90 percent. One phenomenon noted in most of the armies involved in the conflict is worthy of mention: This was the first major war in which disease proved less fatal than battle.

In 1916, when the Canadians were involved in the vast o ensives on the Somme, the infantryman carried a load that, in proportion to his weight, was heavier than mules were made to bear. He bore a rifle, 220 cartridges, four bombs, rations for 24 hours, a winter coat or waterproof poncho, signal equipment, bags for sand and a pick or shovel (sometimes both). He found it difficult to walk, let alone rush at the enemy. If in addition, as was often the case, there was mud clinging to his boots, he was virtually paralysed. An infantryman might be carrying as much as 120 pounds of clothing and equipment. The officers and men admitted that this was unreasonable and many attempts were made to get rid of the excess.

By the 1917 battle of Vimy Ridge, the load had been reduced to about 40 pounds. The soldier now carried a poncho, gas mask, weapon, ammunition, pliers, protective gloves for cutting barbed wire, signal fuses, bags for sand and a pick or shovel. Some soldiers also carried large pieces of stiff leather with which they could throw themselves on barbed wire to make a bridge for their comrades to cross. Units provided, after the first light waves that could now move at a run, consignments of picks and shovels so the men could consolidate positions taken.

By August 1918 at Amiens, each man carried a day's rations, his rifle, 250 bullets, a gas mask, a water bottle, two grenades, two bags for sand and a pick or shovel. Compared to his comrade of 1915-16 the infantryman of 1918 was as light as air. And by a quirk of nature the ground was dry at Amiens - so there was no mud! 70